Mel Cheren (1933-2007) was most famously known as the “Godfather of Disco” – the innovative record executive who helped start the Paradise Garage, a focal point of the downtown Manhattan gay disco scene in the 1970s and ’80s. The Paradise Garage, backed by Cheren and founded by his life partner Michael Brody in 1977, would remain the epicenter for dance DJ’s and clubs for a decade. Cheren invented the 12 inch vinyl single record for his label, West End music, which gave disco DJ’s longer play times and clearer sound than the standard 7-inch vinyl records. He also invented the “B side” of single play records as well, while at Scepter Records. Cheren survived the decline of disco, giving West End music some of its greater hits thereafter.
Cheren witnessed and survived the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, but was profoundly moved and deeply engaged in supporting the response. In the late 1980s, he founded 24 Hours for Life, a nonprofit group that raised money from the music industry for AIDS relief, a precursor to LifeBeat. Cheren made a portion of his own building available in 1980 to the then startup, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), when no one would rent to them because of fears and misunderstanding about AIDS. When GMHC moved to bigger quarters, he converted the space to the Colonial House Inn, a 20-room gay-friendly B&B in Manhattan. He also lived in this same building until he died.
It is there that he hung a majority of the paintings we see in the Cheren portfolio on POBA. These paintings remain vibrant reminders that Cheren also had a creative life outside of music, and was an exceptional painter. These works remain on display at Colonial House Inn today.